Vicki Yates, founder of the Non Ridden Equine Association UK, shares her ideas for how to boost your bond with your horse, without riding.
“Spending time with your horse doing non-ridden activities can have huge benefits for you and your horse’s physical and emotional wellbeing,” says Vicki.
Here, she's come up with seven ways to spend time with your horse.
1. Try mutual grooming with your horse
There are many things you can learn by watching your horse. For example, we can watch how they communicate about sharing space and touching each other.
Pair bonds mutually groom each other and if we engage in a similar activity with our horse, we can discover how our horse likes to be touched. Some love a scratch, whereas others prefer a soft gentle touch.
This is not grooming to remove dirt; this is all about discovering your horse’s sweet spots. You’ll know when you get it right as your horse will give you feedback. On the right spot with the right touch and your horse will be blissed out!
Your horse may want to groom you in return. Some are very gentle and careful, other horses are not. If your horse wants to groom you and you don’t want to be groomed, you can hang a towel over a rail or stable door and encourage your horse to groom that instead.
Sweet spot grooming can have so many practical benefits. You can use it as a way of showing appreciation to your horse and as a reward to any type of training activity.
2. Try positive Reinforcement
Positive reinforcement or clicker training is a wonderful way to engage with our horses. It enables faster learning as we can mark very accurately when the horse has done the right thing.
It can be applied to any activity with our horses, be it ground play, going for a walk, day-to-day handling, training or riding.
It also opens up your world to understanding the difference between a positive and a negative reinforcement.
3. Go for a walk
Walking with your horse rather than riding adds a different dimension to your relationship. You’ll learn to trust each other and it’s great exercise for you and your horse.
Walking also establishes ground manners beyond the schooling environment. It’s an opportunity for you and your horse to have some special one-to-one time.
It’s important to remember that you might meet things on your travels that worry your horse. These are training opportunities. When you come across scary things they’ll either be things you can pick up, or not.
If it’s a lightweight, portable item and okay to move, pick it up and walk with it. Your horse will note that you haven’t been eaten by the object and you’re not bothered carrying it.
Your horse will re-evaluate and go from scared to curious. Once your horse is curious he’ll want to see what it is – at first very tentatively.
When you get to this stage, you can stop walking away with the object and go into graded approach and retreat. This is when you allow your horse to sniff it and then take it away. Taking it away gives your horse time to reflect.
You can then approach with the object and let him sniff for longer. Reward your horse’s bravery.
Once your horse is comfortable with his nose on the object, simply return the object back to where you found it.
For objects you can’t move, place yourself between the object and your horse. It’s the safest place to be as scared horses don’t tend to run towards what scares them.
Keep your energy low and reassure your horse by talking gently and slowly. Show your horse that it’s safe by interacting with the object, for example, touch it. Your horse will eventually work out that it hasn’t eaten you, and be curious.
Some objects can be replicated in the school before going out so you can help your horse overcome fears.
Equipment for your horse
You need a good-fitting halter, headcollar or bridle, ideally the one you ground work your horse in. Make sure you have a lead rope that's in good working order. If you're going onto the roads, hi-vis is essential.
Equipment for you
You'll need footwear with good grip and don't forget a pair of gloves to protect your hands. A a hard hat is wise. You'll need hi-vis, especially If you're going onto the roads.
If you're venturing out, make sure you have adequate insurance cover. The minimum is third party insurance.
4. Play with your horse
Play is a great way to encourage your horse to think. Horses are very able to process, problem solve and think things through.
Play is great for spook busting and bomb-proofing your horse. From practising spook-busting games as a partnership, you and your horse will have tools and strategies in dealing with scary situations.
Playing with your horse can take many forms - whether it be interacting with objects and toys or overcoming different obstacles that you set up in the school.
5. Try agility with your horse
You can extend play into horse agility. If you have the space, try setting up different challenges in your arena or paddock.
This might be different pole exercises, walking through channelled areas or weaving around barrels.
Find out more about horse agility at www.thehorseagilityclub.com
6. Chill out
Horses love chilling out with each other. Why not spend time enjoying the company of your horse or the herd?
With our fast-paced lives, just chilling out with horses give us opportunities to slow down, relax, get off the rat race wheel and connect with nature.
There's nothing better than on a warm sunny day being out in the sun while your horse grazes nearby.
You needn't stop in the winter either. Wrap up warm and find a sheltered spot, giving your horse access to hay and water.
The key to success here is to actively practice relaxation.
Horses are drawn to relaxed and peaceful people and relaxation enables higher achievement and better communication.
7. Try online showing
Whether you ride or not, there's an online showing class for you.
There are many different types of classes, from the traditional, to fun and themed, so something to appeal to everyone.
You pick the moment to record your entry, be it a photograph or video entry. It’s cheaper than going to a local show as there are no transport costs.
If you win or get placed, you get rosettes dropped through your door.